Despite the absence of a couple of key players, Bangladesh Premier League champions Abahani are looking forward to pulling an upset in the AFC Cup when they take on visitors April 25 SC of North Korea in the first leg playoff of inter-zone semifinal today.
The match will get underway at 6:45pm at the Bangabandhu National Stadium.
Abahani have already made a piece of history by entering the knockout stage of the second-tier club competition in Asia for the first time and the Sky Blues are now dreaming of moving into the inter-zone final. However, they must get the better of April 25 SC, who will play the inter-zone semifinal playoffs for the third successive time.
Ahead of the match, Abahani received two big blows, with Egyptian defender Alaaeldin Nasr Elsayed Eissa ruled out due to suspension and midfielder Mamunul Islam ruled out due to injury. But the club’s coach Mario Lemos wants to bank on the available players, who are apparently ready to take the challenge on the back of three weeks’ preparation.
“We played a few group-stage matches without a few key players. Without Sunday Chizoba, we won against Minerva Punjab in the last match. We also beat Chennaiyin FC without Wellington Priori. And we topped the group to come to this stage. There will be suspensions and injuries in football and some other players will get a chance in tomorrow’s big match as we expect all the players to be equal. And I have told my players that missing someone is not an excuse,” Lemos said at the pre-match conference at the BFF house yesterday.
“The North Korean side is a good one, but we are not afraid of them. However, we can’t play the same way we played in the other matches. The players will defend differently and they are motived,” Lemos said. “I do believe we can beat April 25 but we must play our best and must be perfect. We can’t allow the opposition to play. April 25 did not concede too many goals in the group stage and they played with two forwards with the attacks being made through both flanks. We will have to stop their forwards and stop them from sending crosses.”
The North Korean side scored 17 goals while conceding only two goals in six group matches. Exposing their defence will be a tough task for Abahani, who are expected to face a tough challenge from the opposition forwards as well. However, Lemos has his idea of stopping April 25.
“I think the key is defending well, which has been on our mind in the AFC Cup. It is a test for our defenders but we’ve got to be aggressive because there is no option. You’ve got to run more, fight more and jump more. We need to be very aggressive while defending. Attacking wise, if we can defend well and not concede any goals, I really believe we can also score because forwards like [Kervens] Belfort, Sunday, Jewel Rana, [Nabib Newaj] Jibon and Rubel Mia have quality,” said Lemos.
Lemos’s counterpart O Yun Son, however, does not have much idea about Bangladesh football, but he wants to leave Bangladesh with a good result by concentrating on their own game.
“It is a match in the knockout stage and is very important for both sides. I don’t have any idea about Bangladesh football even though I have watched highlights of Abahani’s matches. We want to focus on our strategy and game plan to win the match,” Son said, adding that his squad features four national team players.